In John Douglas’s book, Mindhunter, he describes how he and others on an FBI team compiled the 1992 Crime Classification Manual, one of the most valuable tools used by profilers today. Douglas tells us about the operative style, which involves interviewing convicted murderers and rapists across the country. The task at hand: 1) study the crime, 2) talk to experts, 3) talk to perpetrators, 4) interpret those clues and 5) draw conclusions from patterns.
Douglas says the first step in profiling is advance preparation: checking police files, studying crime-scene photos, discerning autopsy protocols, reading trial transcripts, and looking for clues to motive or personality.
One of the first hurdles FBI agents faced in prison interviews was cutting through self-serving or self-amusing games convicts played. Douglas found he had to portray a persona, to sell the subjects his ideas to keep them interested so they would go along. He also says that contrary to popular belief, “just because someone acts like a maniac, doesn’t mean he doesn’t know exactly what he’s doing.”
Part of the interview process replicated that used by any good reporter: the who (who are the victimizers, who are the victims?), what, where, when, how and why of any story. Key here, along with drawing out the narrative, was observing interviewees’ behavior, including body language, and being able to pounce first. Sexual killers, for example, become skilled in domination, manipulation and control. Some can be quite charming, according to those who met with Ted Bundy. Some were so convincing, Douglas hesitantly admits, that after many interviews, agents went back, checked the killer’s record, and even contacted police in the jurisdiction where the crime occurred, to ensure they had locked up the right guy!
Some of the things FBI researchers found in the course of their conversations: victimizers often had relationship problems with women, and they often dealt with other stressors, such as financial problems or debt. Some had abilities above their job level, some drank heavily, some felt helpless in the face of life's frustrations. Many had a terrible childhood or upbringing. Often agents found killers had taken photos or other souvenirs from their victims. Some visited their victim’s grave site or even rolled in the dirt to relive the pleasure of killing. In the end though, Douglas concludes that serial killers and rapists are hardest to catch of all violent criminals because their motivations are more complex. The patterns are more confusing, since they feel no compassion, guilt or remorse.
The premise that all profilers operate under is this: To know the offender, look at the crime. Or, as Douglas says, “If you want to understand the artist, look at his work.” The trick is that there is no trick. Simply put, the criminologist is collecting a bunch of disparate and seemingly unrelated clues and turning it into a convincing narrative. But there is more to it.
In addition to evaluating a wide range of evidence and data, they must walk in the shoes of both offender and victim. They recreate crime scenes in their minds; learn as much as possible about the victims to imagine their horror -- to put themselves in the victims' place and feel the emotions they experienced as they screamed with no hope for help. The other watchwords for the process include: Behavior reflects personality.
First off, the offender is an unknown subject, hereafter referred to as UNSUB. As part of the basic background the criminologist needs to know:
- What’s in the medical examiner's report, such as the nature and type of wound or wounds, cause of death, whether there was sexual assault, and if so, what kind?
• What was in the preliminary police report?
• What did the first officer see? Was the scene altered? Were there any changes (i.e., dignity moves like covering the face)?
• What do crime-scene photos and schematic drawings (where all directions and footprints are noted) show?
• Time of day, condition of location, signs of a fight, documents, letters, etc.; telephone calls made, position of the victim, check of closets, furniture, blood spatter, collecting of physical, trace, or impressions evidence.
• Anything taken? Even subtle objects like a lock of hair, a barrette, etc. need to be anticipated. (And so as not to be influenced on first pass-through, profilers always request that police notes should be on the back of photos.)
The “victim profile” is prepared. Some questions to be answered are: High- or low-risk victim? What did she say or do? Did she fight back? Why was she selected over all other potential victims? How? Who? In actuality, the victim profile can be every bit as extensive as the killer’s.
Methodology Means more Questions
Criminal (and victim) profiling is knowing about race, personality, job, home life, car, hobbies, familiarity with the area, relationship to police. Was the criminal organized or disorganized? Is there a violent crime in the past? Is the criminal on parole? Are there known stressor factors, such as a commemorative date? Is there any evidence of posing or staging? So many questions, so little time.
As Dr. Park Dietz says, “. . . none of the serial killers . . . has been legally insane, but none has been normal either. They’ve all been people who’ve got mental disorders. But despite their mental disorders, which have to do with their sexual interests and their character, they’ve been people who knew what they were doing, knew what they were doing was wrong, but chose to do it anyway.”
Definitions of some terms involved in criminal profiling:
psychotic — being legally insane, out of touch with reality. (“. . . voices made me do it.”)
psychopath or sociopath — knows right from wrong and consciously chose to do wrong. Lacks conscience or remorse.
necrophilia — sexual stimulation from seeing, touching corpse.
necrostuprum — theft of corpse for sexual pleasure.
lust murder — sexual compulsion to kill.
psychometric tests — administered by a forensic psychologist, they involve motives, background, family life.
modus operandi — What the perpetrator does to commit the crime. It is learned behavior, and it can change.
signature — What the perpetrator has to do to fulfill himself; it doesn't change.
staging — Offender tries to throw off investigators by making them believe a different crime occurred. I.e.: A rapist tries to make his intrusion look like a burglary.posing — The signature; leaving the victim in a certain posture
serial offender — Doesn't stop till caught or killed. Learns by experience, tends to get better. Virtually all are male.
anthropophagy — Sexual gratification achieved through cannibalism
gerontophilia — Sexual obsession in which elderly victims are raped and murdered.
pedophilia — Having sex with children
Myths or common beliefs:
• Serial killers want to be caught. Not really. They're demonstrating their power over society by coming close to getting caught, and then showing their smarts by evading capture. They keenly desire infamy, but they would rather their fame be anonymous.
• Crime is all about people who know each other. Not any more, although family associations are statistically still the most violent.
• Witches, werewolves and vampire stories may be about actual murderers. True.
• Compulsion to kill: When circumstances didn't favor the success of their crime, perpetrators refrained from committing it. They were not compelled to act.
Bibliography: • Douglas, John and Mark Olshaker. Mindhunter: Inside the FBI’s Elite Serial Crime Unit. New York: Scribner, 1995. • Feldman, Philip M. Criminal Behavior: A Psychological Analysis. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1978. • Kelly, Delos. Criminal Behavior: Text and Readings in Criminology. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1990. • Mactire, Sean. Malicious Intent: A Writer’s Guide to How Murderers, Robbers, Rapists and Other Criminals Think. Cincinnati, Ohio: Writer’s Digest Books, 1995. • Roth, Martin. The Writer’s Complete Crime Reference Book. Cincinnati, Ohio: Writer’s Digest Books, 1990. • Territo, Leonard and Max. L. Bromley and James B. Halsted. Crime and Justice in America: A Human Perspective, St. Paul, Minnesota: West Publishing Company, 1995. • Wingate, Anne, PhD. Scene of the Crime: A Writer’s Guide to Crime-Scene Investigations. Cincinnati, Ohio: Writer’s Digest Books, 1992.